EDITORIAL – HIV/AIDS has world in stranglehold
LAST SUNDAY was acknowledged as the 30th anniversary of the first diagnosis of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, now more commonly known by the acronym AIDS. It was the start of the global pandemic for which there is still search for a cure.
On June 5, 1981 an American medical bulletin revealed that five young, gay men in Los Angeles had a mysterious form of pneumonia that normally only appeared in people whose immune systems had collapsed. They were the first documented cases of the HIV epidemic that is sweeping the globe.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 6.6 million people with HIV in the developing world are now on drugs to keep them well and stop them developing AIDS – a substantial increase since last year.
It therefore seems that despite all efforts to contain the spread of this disease, it continues to spread at a giddy pace.
So much so that it was recently reported that infection in the Caribbean still continues unabated.
According to the WHO, there are now 33.3 million people globally living with HIV, which was once a death sentence. However, the roll-out of drugs across the developing world, subsidised by the donors of richer countries, is saving millions of lives.
Latest figures show that last year saw a bigger increase in people in poor countries accessing the drugs than ever before – a rise of 1.4 million over the previous year. There has been a 16-fold increase in the numbers on anti-retroviral treatment between 2003 and 2010.
There are reportedly over nine million more people in developing countries who need the drugs and cannot get them.
Almost US$16 billion was spent to fight the epidemic in low- and middle-income countries in 2009, but at least US$22 billion a year is needed by 2015. In 2009 and 2010, disbursements by donor nations declined.
Last Friday, UNAIDS reported that between 2001 and 2009, the global rate of infections declined by nearly 25 per cent. That is a result of hard work on prevention and awareness of the infection, with people starting to adopt safer sexual behaviour.
But ahead of a United Nations General Assembly special meeting on AIDS soon, experts warn there is much more to do and a real danger of slipping backwards if money for the battle against HIV starts to dry up. Last year, international funding dropped for the first time.
So the challenge in containing AIDS is very real although related deaths have declined, and about 6.6 million people in developing countries were being treated with anti-retroviral drugs at the end of 2010. For them, AIDS is no longer a death sentence as most are likely to live relatively normal lives.
Though the battle to slow the global AIDS epidemic has made significant progress over the last decade, the question now is whether the momentum can be maintained when donations are falling.